Archive of January 28, 2014

Opus Dei bishop showed 'enormous faith,' biographer says

New York City, N.Y., Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The upcoming beatification of Opus Dei lead prelate Bishop Alvaro del Portillo brings to prominence a man of deep faith and love of God, according to his biographer.

“He was someone who reached out to all kinds of people. He would befriend the doormen in the Vatican. They’d come over and say hello to him. He was interested in everybody,” Seton Hall University professor John Coverdale told CNA Jan. 24.

“There can’t be too many people who take up interest in the doorman.”

Bishop del Portillo, a native of Madrid, Spain, headed the personal prelature of Opus Dei from 1975 until his death in 1994. He will be beatified in Madrid on Sept. 27, with Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints presiding.

“He had confidence in God, confidence that Opus Dei was part of God’s plan for the Church, and that he was called to put his whole life at the service of seeing that actually happen,” Coverdale continued.

“That’s exactly what he did. He worked very hard, even in the final days of his life as an old man and much exhausted.”

Bishop del Portillo studied to be an engineer and received doctorates in philosophy, liberal arts and canon law.

He joined Opus Dei in 1935 and soon became a close collaborator of St. Josemaria Escriva, who founded the organization dedicated to spiritual growth and discipleship among the Catholic laity. The organization teaches its members to use their work and their ordinary activities as a way to encounter God.

Coverdale, a tax law professor and member of Opus Dei since 1957, is the author of a history of the prelature. He is now working on a biography of Bishop del Portillo.

The professor said Bishop del Portillo’s personality was “very different” from that of the “ebullient” and “high energy” St. Josemaria.

“Don Alvaro was a much quieter sort of person,” he explained.

However, his life showed his “complete availability” to the Church. He served in various Vatican congregations and commissions. During the Second Vatican Council, he served as a secretary and a “peritus,” or theological expert.

“He told one of his collaborators, who had been asked to take on a very onerous appointment in the Vatican, ‘just always say yes’,” Coverdale said.

The professor worked and studied in the Opus Dei headquarters for five to six years in the 1960s, alongside St. Josemaria Escriva and  

At the time, the bishop was “very much a man in the background.”

“He made no effort to stand out or have people pay attention. He was there to second whatever the founder was doing, and help him in that.”

Coverdale was impressed that a man “of his enormous talent” would simply stand by to be there “in case he was needed.”

He described the bishop's importance in Opus Dei as “extraordinary.” In addition to being a long-time aide and the “closest collaborator” of the prelature’s founder, Bishop del Portillo had a “very strong sense” of the spirit of the organization.

Upon St. Josemaria’s death, he helped maintain the continuity of Opus Dei’s spirit and practice, securing the organization's status as a prelature – a special structure under church law – and helping secure the beatification of St. Josemaria.

Coverdale suggested that the death of St. Josemaria was the bishop’s “most dramatic” moment, due to his close friendship with the saint, with whom he lived and ate “every day for 30 years.”

“He had enormous affection for him, and was probably the person most saddened and upset by St. Josemaria’s death.”

But rather than simply grieving, Bishop del Portillo “immediately took up the reins” and wrote Opus Dei members a 30-40 page letter recounting the founder’s death.

“It must have been very hard to do, when, I am sure, he was in tears,” Coverdale noted. “He knew he had to take care of the other people.”

The biographer said he was also struck by “just how much” the man prayed.

“Not only did he celebrate Mass everyday and say the breviary and say the rosary and do an hour a day at least of mental prayer,” the biographer recalled. “Many times if he was traveling by car, he said multiple decades of the rosary.”

“There are all kinds of occasions when you see him simply returning to prayer as a way of solving issues and opening God’s grace for Opus Dei and for the Church as a whole,” Coverdale said.

Since the bishop’s death in 1994, many people have turned to him in prayer.

In July 2013, Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bishop del Portillo. It involved the August 2003 healing of a Chilean newborn boy who suffered a 30-minute period of cardiac arrest and a major hemorrhage.

Although the newborn’s medical team thought he had already died, his parents prayed for healing through the bishop’s intercession. The baby’s heart began to beat again and he went on to live a normal life.

Monsignor Flavio Capucci, the postulator in charge of Bishop del Portillo’s cause for canonization, has said that he has received almost 12,000 signed reports from Catholics who believe they have received favors through his intercession.

The recognition of a second miracle is typically necessary for a blessed to become a saint.

Beatification events will include visits to Madrid’s Almuenda Cathedral and other places related to the bishop’s life and the beginnings of Opus Dei. Related events will also be held in Rome.

The current Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarría, said the Vatican’s Jan. 21 announcement of the beatification ceremony was a “moment of profound joy.” He said Bishop del Portillo “loved and served the Church so much.”

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Student debt delays some Americans from religious life

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - About ten percent of those who took perpetual religious vows in the U.S. in 2013 said that educational debt delayed their application to religious orders or institutes, a new survey says.

The findings come in the annual report of Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, summarized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Vowed religious had a median educational debt of $30,000 when they first applied to join their religious institute. Among the ten percent of respondents whose debt delayed their application to an institute, their average delay was two years.

The study surveyed men and women religious who professed perpetual vows in 2013. The survey received a response from 460 of 823 major superiors, who referred them to 107 women and men.

The professed religious who responded to the survey numbered 69 sisters and nuns and 11 brothers.

No religious brothers said they received assistance in paying down their debt. Several women religious reported assistance from family members, friends, or co-workers. Some reported assistance from their religious institute, their parish, or organizations like the Labouré Society, the Serra Fund for Vocations, the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, or the Knights of Columbus.

Almost 90 percent of responding religious institutes had no professions of perpetual religious vows in 2013. About 10 percent reported one such profession, while three percent reported two or more.

In 2013, the average age of religious profession was 41. The youngest was 26 years old and the oldest was 73.

About 74 percent of respondents identified as white, 14 percent identified as Asian, and 12 percent identified as Hispanic.

More than 75 percent were born in the U.S. The second-most common country of origin was Vietnam. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic respondents were born in the U.S.

Foreign-born respondents were 22 years old on average when they first came to the U.S. They lived in the U.S. for 17 years before making perpetual vows.

About 82 percent of respondents were Catholic since birth and almost as many had parents who were both Catholic. The 18 percent of converts converted at an average age of 22. They were more likely to have attended a Catholic high school and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college than the general Catholic population.

About half of respondents participated in youth ministry or youth group, while about 33 percent participated in college campus ministry. Respondents were active in faith formation or social service ministry, while ten percent taught in a Catholic school or served in hospital or prison ministry.

Almost all had a regular private prayer life, while 70 percent participated in Eucharistic Adoration. More than 50 percent regularly prayed the rosary or participated in spiritual direction.

Almost all took part in a vocation program or vocation retreat before entering their religious institute.

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New app aims to enliven Scriptures, boost accessibility

Chicago, Ill., Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new app featuring the full text and dramatic readings of the Bible is drawing praise from Catholic clergy who say it can help more people read or hear the Scriptures no matter where they are.

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay said the app “makes hearing and reflecting upon the word of God easy, engaging and acceptable.”

“The New Evangelization calls us to reach out using new methods and expressions and this tool allows people to not only read, but hear and experience the word of God in their homes, cars and places of work,” he said Jan. 24.

The Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible New Testament App comes in free and paid versions. The free version contains a complete text of the Bible in the Revised Standard Edition Second Catholic Edition and a full audio book of the Gospel of Mark.

With an additional purchase, users can add a full-length audio New Testament  voiced by actors including Neal McDonough, Kristen Bell, Sean Astin, Blair Underwood, Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davis. The audio New Testament is 22 hours long. Another optional purchase is a digital edition of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. The Bible text follows the audio automatically.

Father James McIlhone, director of Biblical Formation in the Archdiocese of Chicago who is helping promote the app and develop ways to use it, called it “an audio Bible like no other.”

“Where most audio Bibles have one person reading the text, 'Truth and Life' has a host of actors and actresses taking the various parts,” he told CNA Jan. 24. “That, coupled with the superb sound effects, allows someone to close their eyes, listen to the Bible and visualize the scene.”

Fr. McIlhone said the app helps people have their Bible with them on all their devices. “I find more people following texts when I give talks with their iPhone, Android or iPad rather than with a print Bible.”

Michael Stark, a producer of the app, said his work was motivated by his adoption and his Catholic upbringing.

He told CNA was adopted through the Archdiocese of Chicago's agency. He said he was “always grateful for God’s graces, especially the parents I was given.”

“When the opportunity to produce a Catholic audio Bible and app was presented to me, I jumped on it,” he said. “This is my way of giving thanks to God for all the graces he has bestowed upon me.”

Stark noted that Catholics can use the app to read the Scriptures as part of a “Lenten Challenge.”

“We’re encouraging people to read the four gospels in 46 days,” he said. “Read four chapters a day. The amount of time it takes for you to do that is 8-10 minutes.”

“Take the time to get to know God better, to know the Gospels better,” he said.

Stark said he hopes that any Bible-reading habits taken up during Lent will become a regular year-round habit.

Fr. McIlhane added that rather than giving up something for Lent, Catholics should consider giving up “a little time” and read, listen to or meditate on the four Gospels.

“This practice, we feel, could enhance the reader's understanding of Jesus, and bring them into a deeper relationship with him.”

He said he has often heard that Catholics have been told not to read the Bible. While he believes this has been true, “it was not my experience.”

His grammar school education studied the stories f the Bible and in his high school studies he gained his “first love” for the Bible.

“Catholics have shied away from the Bible,” he said. “The essence of our Faith is relationship with Jesus Christ, and the only way we can enter into relationship with Jesus is knowing him and the means par excellence whereby we come to know him is the Bible.”

The Bible app is available for Apple devices, Android devices, the Kindle Fire, the Nook and PC computers. More information is available at the website

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Pope advances the causes of eight possible Saints

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a Monday meeting with the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis approved the “heroic virtue” of eight Servants of God, which now allows their public veneration.

Among those whose causes the Pope moved forward during his Jan. 27 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, are one martyr and seven priests and religious hailing from various countries all over the world.

Originally from Spain, martyr Fr. Peter Asúa Mendía was born in Valmaseda, a small town in the province of Vizcaya, Spain on Aug. 30, 1890.

After he was ordained, Fr. Mendía served as the pastor of a parish in the diocese of Vitoria, and was killed in Liendo, a province of Santander, Spain, in hatred of the faith on Aug. 29, 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Of the seven priests and religious whose causes were promulgated yesterday by Pope Francis, one Religious Sister hails from his native Argentina.

Born in La Carlota Rio Cuarto, a province of Córdova , Argentina, on April 3, 1822, Servant of God Maria Benedetta Arias was responsible for founding the Sisters Servants of Jesus in the Sacrament. She died in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Sept. 25, 1894.

The causes of two Italians, Servants of God Giuseppe Girelli and Elizabeth Sanna, are also among those whose heroic virtues have been approved.

Fr. Giuseppe Girelli was a diocesan priest who was born in Dossobuono, in Verona , Italy on Jan. 10, 1886, and died in Negrar, also in Verona, on May 1, 1978.

Elizabeth Sanna, was born at Codrongianos in Sarrari, Italy on April 23, 1788, and at three months old lost the use of her arms. Despite her handicap, she was married in 1807, had seven children, and was then widowed in 1825.

After the death of her husband, Sanna embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and ended up in Rome, where she remained due to ill health. While there, she met St. Vincent Pallotti, who became her spiritual director, and later entered into the Union of the Catholic Apostolate.

She was known throughout her life for ardent faith and charity, and by the time she died on Feb. 17, 1857, she was also well reputed for her sanctity, and was buried in the same church as her spiritual guide.

Also from Spain, the cause of Servant of God Zechariah Santa Teresa, born in Abadiano in Vizcaya, Spain on Nov. 5, 1887, is among those being advanced.

Fr. Zechariah was professed with the Order of Discalced Carmelites in 1904 and was ordained a priest seven years later. After his ordination, the young Carmelite volunteered to serve as a missionary in India, where he worked as a theologian, philosopher, preacher and historian until his death on May 23, 1957.

Foundress Marcella Mallet, Servant of God, was born in Côte des -Neiges in Montreal , Canada on March 26, 1805, and is responsible for founding the order of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec. She died there on April 9, 1871.

Also moved forward was the cause of Servant of God Margaret of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, who was born in Kercem, in the Island of Gozo, Malta on Nov. 28, 1862.

The foundress made a vow of virginity at the age of 15, and was accepted into the Association of the Twelve Starts of the Heart of Jesus in 1887. After repeated pleas, she was accepted as a member of the newly-formed Congregation of the Franciscan Tertiaries in 1881.

Mother Margaret became superior of one of the congregations new houses in 1885, where she then taught, and was later inspired to run the order. She died in Victoria, in the Island of Gozo, Malta on Jan. 22, 1952, and was well known for profound faith and humility, devotion to prayer, mortification, and her willingness to serve.

Last among those causes approved by Pope Francis is Servant of God Serafina, who was born in Urucurituba, Brazil on Jan. 31, 1913, and was professed as a Religious sister in the Congregation of the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ. She died in Manaus, Brazil, on Oct. 21, 1988.

After the pontiff’s meeting with Cardinal Amato, these eight individuals have now received the title “Servants of God,” which is the first stage in the sainthood process, and have received the Pope’s consent to be declared as “Venerable,” and may be now publically reverenced.

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'Come out of your shell' to praise the Lord, Pope encourages

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily, Pope Francis spoke on the importance of freely praising God in our prayer, and warned against an attitude which can be judgmental of others who do not follow certain “formalities.”

“You’re able to shout when your team scores a goal, and you are not able to sing praises to the Lord? To come out of your shell ever so slightly to sing (His praise)?” the Pope asked during his Jan. 28 daily Mass, held in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.

Turning to the day’s first reading taken from the Second Book of Samuel, the Pope began his reflections by focusing on how David “danced with all his might before the Lord” in order to celebrate with whole of Israel that the Arc of the Covenant was returning to its home.

David’s prayer “led him to move beyond all composure” noted the Pope, highlighting that this dancing “was precisely a prayer of praise.”

Recalling how Sarah, the wife of Abraham, exclaimed that “the Lord made me dance with joy” after the birth of her son Isaac, the pontiff highlighted that it is not difficult to pray in thanksgiving or in petition, but when it comes to prayer of praise we leave it “aside – it does not come to us so easily.”

“‘But, Father! This is for the Renewal in the Spirit folks, not for all Christians!’” he said echoing the words of some Christians, adding that “No: prayer of praise is a Christian prayer, for all of us.”

Drawing attention to the moment in the Mass when we sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the Pope observed that “this is a prayer of praise: we praise God for his greatness, because He is great. We say beautiful things to Him” because we are “happy for His greatness.”

Noting that some make excuses saying “’But, Father! I am not able” to do this, or “I have to” to that, he stated that “well, you’re able to shout when your team scores a goal, and you are not able to sing praises to the Lord?”

“Praising God is completely” free, the pontiff explained, and “(in it) we do not ask (Him to give us anything): we do not express gratitude for anything (He has given); we praise (Him)!”

Pope Francis then emphasized that we need to pray “whole-heartedly,” adding that it is “an act of justice, because He is great! He is our God,” and that David “was so happy, because the ark was returning, the Lord was returning: his body, too, prayed with that dance.”

“(Here is) a good question for us to pose to ourselves today,” the Pope reflected, asking “’how am I doing vis à vis prayer of praise? Do I know how to praise the Lord? Do I know how to praise the Lord when I pray the Gloria or the Sanctus? Is my whole heart really in it, or do I merely mouth (the words)?”

“What does David dancing here say to me, and Sarah, dancing for joy?” he continued, noting that “when David enters the city there begins another thing: a party!”

The Pope then recalled how Michal, the daughter of Saul, was upset with David when he returned to the palace, and asked him if he, as king, was ashamed to have danced in front of everyone.

Michal “despised David,” explained the pontiff, stating that “I wonder sometimes how many times we despise good people in our hearts, good people who praise the Lord as it comes to them, so spontaneously, because they are not cultured, because they do not follow the formalities?”

“(I mean really) despise (them)?” the Pope continued, observing that “the Bible says that, because of this, Michal remained sterile for the rest of her life.”

“What does the Word of God mean, here?” reflected the pontiff, “(It means) that joy, that the prayer of praise makes us fruitful! Sarah danced in the great moment of her fecundity – at the age of ninety!”

“The fruitfulness that praise of the Lord gives us, the gratuity of praising the Lord: that man or that woman who praises the Lord, who prays praising the Lord, who, when praying the Gloria is filled with joy at doing so, and who, when singing the Sanctus in the Mass rejoices in singing it, is a fruitful person.”

Pope Francis closed his homily by stating that contrary to this fruitfulness, “Those, who are closed in the formality of a prayer that is cold, stingy, might end up as Michal, in the sterility of her formality.”

Asking those present to imagine David dancing “with all his might before the Lord,” the Pope encouraged them to think about “how beautiful it is to make the prayer of praise.”

He concluded by urging all to remember the words of the day’s psalm, Psalm 23, which states “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.”

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Pope reminds businesses of responsibility to help poor, vulnerable

Davos, Switzerland, Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Business leaders have an obligation to use their gifts to help the poor and vulnerable, working to promote equality and human dignity, said Pope Francis in a recent letter.

“It is intolerable that thousands of people continue to die every day from hunger, even though substantial quantities of food are available, and often simply wasted,” the Pope said.

“Likewise, we cannot but be moved by the many refugees seeking minimally dignified living conditions, who not only fail to find hospitality, but often, tragically, perish in moving from place to place.”

“I know that these words are forceful, even dramatic,” he continued, “but they seek both to affirm and to challenge the ability of this assembly to make a difference.”

The Pope's words came in a letter to Prof. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, days before the group's late January meeting in Switzerland.

Modern business activity, Pope Francis said, has had a “fundamental role” in improving human welfare “by stimulating and developing the immense resources of human intelligence.”

But while economic success has helped to reduce poverty “for a great number of people,” he observed, it has “led to a widespread social exclusion” for others.

The majority of people on Earth, he said, “still continue to experience daily insecurity,” facing “intolerable” situations such as extreme hunger and lack of shelter.

The Holy Father lamented that human dignity and the common good seem to be “little more than an afterthought” in many political and economic decisions. He challenged members of the World Economic Forum to place the innovative skills of the business world “at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”

While the expansion of equality “presupposes” economic growth, the Pope said, it also “demands something more” – a transcendent view of the human person and proper understanding of human dignity.

“I am convinced that from such an openness to the transcendent a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane,” he said.

The growth of equality also “calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality,” he elaborated.

Pope Francis called for a “profound and broadened sense of responsibility” on behalf of all. He encouraged business leaders to see their work as a vocation and understand their duty towards the common good.

“Without ignoring, naturally, the specific scientific and professional requirements of every context,” he concluded, “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

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Relic of John Paul II's blood stolen from Italian church

Rome, Italy, Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A reliquary containing drops of the blood of Blessed Pope John Paul II has been stolen from a church in central Italy.

According to reports, thieves stole the relic and a small simple cross from the Church of San Pietro della Ienca in the mountainous region of Abruzzo.

Pasquale Corrieri, who heads the cultural center that cares for the church, said he believed the theft was “commissioned,” ABC News reports.

“Whoever broke in came for the relic, that is clear, all the rest was left untouched including the offering box,” he said.

The relic is a piece of cloth soaked in the blood from the 1981 assassination attempt on the Pope’s life. There are only three like it.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s personal secretary, gave the relic to the people of L’Aquila in 2011 after a devastating earthquake.

The late Pope skied in the area and visited more than 100 times during his papacy. He also was a regular visitor to the church.

Corrieri’s daughter, Franca, who serves as a church custodian, discovered a broken window at the church early in the morning on Sunday, Jan. 26. She called police, who discovered the reliquary was missing.

She said the theft felt more like a kidnapping, the British newspaper The Guardian reports.

“In a sense, a person has been stolen,” she said.

Nothing else was taken from the church.

Police have speculated that the theft could be linked to a satanic cult, NBC News says. Authorities are now using trained sniffer dogs to search the nearby area.

John Paul II will be canonized on April 27, alongside Pope John XXIII.

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Horror of the Holocaust must never be repeated, Pope writes

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan 28, 2014 (CNA) - In a letter to his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Pope Francis wrote that the horror of the Holocaust must never be repeated.

The letter was read out Monday evening at a concert in Rome entitled “Violins of Hope” to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

In his letter, the Holy Father said he hoped that those who attend the concert “can identify with those historic tears that reach today through the violins, and feel the strong desire to make the commitment that such horrors, which constitute an embarrassment for humanity, are never repeated.”

The audience hears the music of Vivaldi, Beethoven and other major composers, “but the hearts of each one present will sense behind the music the silent sound of historic tears that leave their mark on the soul,” he said.

Rabbi Skorka is the rector of the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary located in Buenos Aires. He serves as rabbi at the Jewish Community of Benei Tikva and honorary professor of Hebrew Law at the Salvador University in Buenos Aires.

Skorka and Pope Francis have been friends for years, since the Pope's time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

They co-authored a book entitled, “On Heaven and Earth,” featuring a series of questions and answers on various subjects. They also co-hosted a television program together on current affairs.

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Super Bowl prompts efforts to battle human sex trafficking

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the 2014 Super Bowl approaches, officials from government and private agencies gathered in Washington, D.C., to testify about prevention measures against the grave threat of human sex trafficking.

“In less than a week, New Jersey will be hosting the Super Bowl,” explained Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) at a Jan. 27 hearing, “and along with welcoming enthusiastic fans, the state also is preparing for a likely influx of both domestic and international traffickers.”

Smith, who leads the House subcommittee dealing with global human rights, chaired the hearing on efforts to fight human trafficking, particularly at large-scale sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons, noted the gravity of human trafficking in the 21st century, describing it as “nothing short of modern day slavery.”

The U.S. State Department's 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report found that up to 27 million individuals were victims of human trafficking during the previous year, with hundreds of thousands moved over international borders against their will to perform sexual or manual labor.

Human trafficking is a prevalent phenomenon throughout the world, CdeBaca said, including in the United States. However, the U.S. government “is galvanized in our commitment” to fighting the problem, with bipartisan efforts and partnerships underway for more than a decade.

The ambassador hopes awareness initiatives surrounding the Super Bowl will aid in long-term work to prevent global human trafficking, a year-round problem that “does not go away when the stadium lights are dimmed.”

He noted that Russia, host of the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, was classified by the State Department in 2013 as a Tier 3 country – the worse level of human trafficking offender.

Pointing to continued “reports of women and children exploited in sex trafficking in Russia,” he cautioned that the problem could escalate as tourists and money flow into the country for the games.

Transportation experts and officials also testified at the hearing to explain how victims of human trafficking are moved and manipulated.

“Every year, millions of men, women, and children worldwide – including in the United States – are victims of human trafficking,” stressed Maria Odom, chair of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign to prevent human trafficking.

She explained that victims span a wide range of race, age, ethnicity, sex and nationality backgrounds. They are exploited and coerced into compelled labor or commercial sex acts, often through force or fraud. Some are promised better-paying jobs; others are manipulated by family members.

Nancy Rivard, founder and president of Airline Ambassadors International, described the work done by American Airlines to help educate flight personnel on how to identify human trafficking situations.

However, she added that the airline and broader transportation industry needs a more robust, integrated approach to addressing the problem through training and passenger awareness.

She pointed out that the airline companies “have infrastructure to provide training to flight crew at virtually no cost during annual emergency procedure trainings,” and suggested that tools and protocol could be better and more consistently utilized.
Holly Smith, who became a victim of human trafficking at age 14, also testified at the hearing, describing her experience and urging better education and rehabilitation programs to help victims recover.

“Within hours of running away...I was forced into prostitution on the streets and in the casino hotels and motels of Atlantic City, New Jersey,” she said.

“Thirty-six hours later, I was arrested by police and treated like a criminal. Without appropriate aftercare services, I struggled for many years to overcome my victimization. I struggled with depression, drug abuse, and domestic violence.”

With the Feb. 2 Super Bowl approaching, Rep. Smith explained that authorities have been working to fight the major human trafficking potential that accompanies the event.

The state's Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness has been distributing informational pamphlets to emergency workers “so that these front line professionals will know when to be concerned that someone is a trafficking victim and how to respond appropriately.”

In addition, a trafficking identification training program for airlines is being expanded to other transportation officials, such as “bus drivers and station operators, train conductors, trucking associations, and other transportation industry professionals,” Smith said.

He called for “zero tolerance” standards to be “rigorously and faithfully enforced by arrests” of human trafficking perpetrators.

“And there can be no higher priority than the liberation and protection of the victims,” he affirmed. “Combating human trafficking must be continuously prioritized at all levels of government, the faith community, civil society and corporations, including the National Football League.”

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Economy dominates 2014 State of the Union address

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Economic inequality was a major focus of U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, delivered Jan. 28 to members of Congress and to the nation.

The president criticized the economic gap between “those at the top” and those “working too hard just to get by.” He called for the support of “entrepreneurs and small business owners” to help bolster “middle class jobs.”

In addition, he reinforced his call for Congress to raise the national minimum raise to $10.10, pointing to a handful of states and private companies that have already adopted policies boosting minimum wages for employees.

“It's good for the economy, it's good for America,” the president said, announcing that he would sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors.

In addition to economic concerns, Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address touched on immigration, gun control, energy and foreign policy.

He vowed to “fix our broken immigration system,” asking Congress to “get immigration reform done this year.”

He also stressed the need to improve education across the country and expand industries such as clean energy to enhance the U.S. role in the global economy.

Turning to “women’s issues,” the president avoided the controversial topics of abortion and the federal contraception mandate, instead focusing his comments on gender wage equality and stating that a woman should be able “to have a baby without sacrificing her job.”

“I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds,” he said.

Addressing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Obama encouraged Americans to apply for health insurance by the end of March. While he acknowledged continued Republican opposition to the law, he suggested that they had not put forward any better alternatives.

Also discussed in his speech were the federal government’s partnerships with local and state leaders on “issues from homelessness to marriage equality” – the first mention of marriage redefinition in a State of the Union address.

In addition, the president discussed the official end of the United States' interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while noting continued involvement in the Middle East and other areas “as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world.”

He pledged support for the Syrian opposition “that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks” and promised the expansion of cybersecurity and other security programs.

Addressing concerns about the overreach of surveillance and the use of unmanned aerial attacks, Obama stated that he has “imposed prudent limits on the use of drones” and will “reform our surveillance programs.”

He emphasized the use of diplomacy backed by the threat of force when dealing with situations such as Iran's recent reported attempts to obtain the materials necessary to build a nuclear bomb.

“We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies,” the president said, “and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.”

Urging Americans – and particularly members of Congress – to build a more just and equal nation, Obama reiterated that he was willing to “act on my own” if necessary to “make this a year of action.”

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) also discussed jobs and the economy in her official GOP response to the State of the Union.

She suggested that the real problem is “opportunity equality,” compounded by unnecessary government policies, taxes and spending.

“Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder,” she charged.

The congresswoman highlighted her own personal background working on her family’s orchard as an example of American potential and success when given opportunity. She also talked about her young son with Down syndrome, and how her family sees him as “a gift from God” and a child full of potential.

Critiquing the health care reform law, McMorris Rodgers argued that the plans offered under the law are unaffordable.

“No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were,” she said, “but this law is not working.”

Touching on the issue of immigration, she stated that Republicans are “working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform,” focusing on border patrol and “making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”

Calling for policies to rebuild “the American Dream,” McMorris Rodgers echoed the president’s call to make 2014 “a year of real action.”

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